Friday, January 23, 2015

Tanya Miranda's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. Today we have Tanya's revised query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The query:

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation No. I have covered this before, but really it's not needed, and kind of looks like a rookie mistake. for Box of Souls BOX OF SOULS, an urban fantasy novel that is complete at 55,000 words. Hmm. I can't remember the word count from last time, but regardless, if it hasn't gone up, or even if it has, it needs to go up, a lot more. 55,000 words is a short YA novel, and it's a really short adult UF novel.

As ancient rules dictate, Not a great opening, as it's vague, but I'll take it for now. a sage sorceress Huh? I think I might know what you're getting at here, but "sage" as synonymous with "wise" is way too loose a connection for a query. Not everyone reads a shit ton of fringe spec-fic, and even if you're querying agents who mostly do, be careful. If you mean something else, well ... then I'm at a loss. must choose a female kin down her bloodline to inherit her powers before she dies. Well that's cool. More like this. When eighteen-year-old Jasmyn's grandmother passes away, SPOILER ALERT: PRO-TIP. Sorry for the ALL-CAPS, but this is where you should start your query. This is CHARACTER. CHARACTER is KEY. (Note: actually, all in all, this is SITUATION, but it's a better sense of character than your current world-building-based opening implies). This is also probably YA, but that's neither her nor there at this point. This is a much more money opening than what you have. it is eight-year-old Katarina who begins to display the gift of sorcery. This newest rejection proves Jasmyn's life-long claim that her family loves Katarina more than they love her, and instead of mourning with her family, she bears her grandmother’s death alone.

Okay. Several decent elements here. But it's all a bit muddled. Who's our protag? Focus on her. What's our inciting incident? Granny's passing? Revelation of the gift? The rejection?

One thing you really need to keep in mind when writing a query is: what's backstory and what's story? Backstory is important, of course, but it has much more place in the manuscript (where it still should barely linger) than it does in a query, which is to say: very little.

I can't tell, from this query so far, which is which.

After the funeral, menacing dragons appear along the west coast of California, Whatever you do, stop right now and read The Story of Owen. the same dragons Jasmyn's grandmother banished centuries ago. Patricia and Regina, two sage sorceresses I really need to know why these two very specific words are combined twice in one query. I consider myself well versed in fantasy, and I have no idea if you mean something more esoteric than "wise female magic user." from their grandmother’s coven, discover that Katarina accidentally read a spell from the Book of Whispers releasing the Gregorn Dragons from their prison. Since Katarina is the chosen one, Whoa. Okay, I suppose this was implied, but still, this is the little one? Can their names be more distinct? she is the only one who can stop them.

When Katarina’s magic fails, Why? How? the sage witches Now there are witches? Are they different from the sorceresses, but equally sage somehow? realize that Jasmyn had indeed shown signs of sorcery, but they were too focused on Katarina to notice. Somehow, their grandmother’s gift is split between both Katarina and Jasmyn, and now the two sisters must work together to destroy the dragons. And ... sadly, now you're in synopsis territory. This is just TMI for a query letter. 

Google "Matthew MacNish Queries" and you'll find a bunch of posts in which I break down the key elements. You're over-length here, probably, already, but even if you weren't, this is already too elaborate.

There's just one problem - Jasmyn ran away when a feud earlier Huh? "When a feud earlier?" No. Watch your syntax. That makes no sense. had the entire family pinned against her, shunning her from her home. Now, Patricia and Regina Who are these characters again? You have too many names in this query. are in a race to get to Jasmyn before the dragons get to her first. The Gregorn The which Dragons? Specificity is always great, IF it makes sense to the readers. Randomly naming dragon phylums or whatever this is ... is, unfortunatley, still just vague. Dragons have magic of their own and can sense the division of power between the two sisters. Good, but too late. They know the two fledgling witches are the only ones who can stop them, and they want them eliminated. Stakes? Maybe, but after this much query, we don't care about the Dragons, we CARE about the girls.

Can Jasmyn and Katarina reunite in time to stop the Gregorn Dragons from destroying mankind? Can Jasmyn put her pain and resentment aside to wield their grandmother's magic? The bond of sisterhood is strong, but so are powers of darkness.

Hmm. This isn't terrible as a wrap-up/sadistic choice line, but so much of this information is so disjointed from the main body of the query, let's summarize ...

Thank you for your time and consideration.



In summary: this IS an improvement, Tanya, don't get me wrong. It really does cover all the basics. It's just that WHEN it covers them, and HOW, are still a bit of a mess.

First of all, your story section, the most important part of the query, is 303 words long. That isn't astronomically high, but it is a bit long, and worse, in the amount of words you've used, you didn't tell us very much. Or rather, you told us a bunch, but didn't make much cohesive sense from one element to the next.

Try to be more specific. Specific as to CHARACTER, as to CONFLICT, as to SCENE, SCENARIO, SETUP, PLOT, and STAKES. I know that's a lot to cover in 250 words, but people pull it off all the time. Read their examples. See if it helps you find your own.

That's it.

What do you all think? Would you disagree on anything?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

When I read it yesterday, the length caught my attention at once.
Agree the character point is where the story needs to begin. And I'd dump the word sage altogether.

mshatch said...

It sounds like this might be the story of two sisters who let envy and jealousy come between them then have to work together to save everything. But it's hard to tell because there's so much else cluttering up the query. Tell us who the most important characters are and limit the names to 2-4 at most. Explain the conflict - jealousy, dragons - and the choice - if they don't make up and join forces everyone loses.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I like what Marcy said above in her first line -- If that's the heart of the story, then this sounds like a great book. But this query is absolutely getting in the way of highlighting it. Don't despair, you just need to approach the story in a different way.

When I read this yesterday, I couldn't tell whether it was YA or Adult. 55k is short for YA, and I think way too short for Adult. (Right, Matt?)

I couldn't tell who the protagonist was. Is it Jasmyn? Or is it Patricia and Regina, who are mentioned a lot in the query and seem to have POV?

Whether this is book has dual POV or whether it's third person omniscient with POV from many characters -- ONLY ONE character should be highlighted in the query. A query should never tackle multiple main characters. Pick one -- I'm assuming Jasmyn, although I could be wrong -- and rewrite the query focusing on the conflict and stakes from HER perspective.

I think it will make a big difference in clarity and help your premise shine.

Tanya Miranda said...

Wow. I feel like I threw in tons of different colors into the paint mixer and all I got was gray. My last version was too vague, and this version was on the other side of the spectrum - just too much info.

MSHATCH, your comment was like a splash of cold water. You got the gist of it. With that, I give you a revised version stating the jealousy, the dragons, the conflict and the stakes. It's not final, but its a better platform to spring from.

Thanks Matt and everyone else for your comments.


When eighteen-year-old Jasmyn's grandmother passes away, it is eight-year-old Katarina who begins to display their grandmother's gift of magic. This newest rejection proves Jasmyn's life-long claim that her family loves Katarina more than they love her, and instead of mourning with her family, she bears her grandmother’s death alone.

After the funeral, enormous dragons appear along the California coastline, and only Katarina's magic can stop them. When her spells fail, her family believes it is because she didn't inherit all of their grandmother's magic and that the magic gift was split between the two sisters.

Now, Jasmyn and Katarina must put their rivalry aside and work together to stop the menace. But when a feud pins the entire family against Jasmyn, Jasmyn runs away. Their magic can only work if they work together, and every moment they are apart the dragons grow stronger. Can the sisters reunite in time to stop the dragons from destroying mankind? Can Jasmyn put her pain and resentment aside to wield her grandmother's magic? The bond of sisterhood is strong, but so are powers of darkness.


Steve MC said...

What Alex said about what you said, and Marcy and Dianne as well. When I read it yesterday, it just took too long to get into it, and then took a long winding route that left me feeling the novel would go the same way.

The idea behind it all is great - two magical sisters who need to unite to stop invading dragons. Lots of great potential there for drama. But the query doesn't show it till the very end.

Tanya - for your latest version, a much better beginning. But the second sentence isn't needed, since it's obvious she'd be jealous, and it's not clear why she bears the grandmother's death alone, since everyone would be feeling the same loss. I think you mean "alone" as in she takes off alone, which we need to see.

The second paragraph is good, only change "her family believes" to "her family discovers," for more drama. And can cut "it is because she didn't inherit all of their grandmother's magic and that" since it's repeated in "the magic gift was split between the two sisters." If you trim that, change "the magic gift" to what you had above: "her grandmother's magic."

The third paragraph confused me because I didn't get why she ran away with so much at stake (unless she didn't know about the dragons yet). The last line sounds great.

So yeah, you summed it up well with what you said about too many colors. This one is much better, just still needs a little cutting and clarity. Good luck!